I Want It All 06/09/2015



I’m going back to the dark side. After fifteen years of writing traditional, cozy mysteries, I’m starting a dark series featuring death investigator Angela Richman.

Death investigators work out of the medical examiner’s office. At a death scene, the DI takes charge of the body, photographing it, documenting the wounds, and more. The police investigate the rest of the crime scene.

Why return to this gritty world?

Because I never left. My first mystery series featured Francesca Vierling, a six-foot St. Louis newspaper columnist who drove an ’86 Jaguar. I wrote four Francesca paperbacks for Dell, before Bantam, Doubleday Dell wiped out the division.

These novels were hard-boiled. Francesca investigates a transvestite’s murder in Backstab and the death of a RUB, a rich urban biker, in Rubout. In The Pink Flamingo Murders, a ruthless gentrifier came to a horrifying end: stabbed with a pink plastic flamingo. The stiletto-like legs went straight to her heart. In Doc in the Box, bad doctors get the deaths they deserved.

The publisher ended the Francesca series, but readers still buy it. This May, a New Yorker with lymphoma told me she gave Doc in the Box to her oncologist as a gift—or a warning.

After Dell ended the hard-boiled Francesca series, I worked dead-end jobs until my agent sold Shop Till You Drop, my first Dead-End Job mystery, to Penguin. This series featured Helen Hawthorne, a St. Louis woman on the run in South Florida. I was back writing traditional mysteries, cheerfully slaughtering awful bosses and annoying customers. Penguin saved me from being trapped in dead-end jobs. Now they were research. I could quit them to write my mysteries.   

In book five, Penguin took the Dead-End Job series from paperback to hardcover. They’d already asked me to write a cozy series featuring mystery shopper Josie Marcus, which was supposed to last two or three books.

I happily wrote two mysteries a year. Suddenly, it was 2015. I turned in book ten of the “three book” mystery-shopper series. Checked Out, my fourteenth Dead-End Job hardcover, was published.

I love cozies, but they’re not all kittens and cupcakes. I prefer relentless Miss Marple, the fluffy knitter who declared “I am Nemesis” and brought killers to justice. Penguin gave me the freedom to write what Publishers Weekly called “wry social commentary.”

I’d kept writing darkly humorous short stories for anthologies such as Crimes by Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side, edited by Charlaine Harris, and short stories for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. My latest story, “The Bride Wore Blood,” was not for the “Say Yes to the Dress” crowd.

But I wanted to go darker again. After all, I still had that ’86 Jag. This January I took the MedicoLegal Death Investigators Training Course, given by Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine for forensic professionals.

The intense training made sure I had the most up-to-date forensic information. Look at the agenda for one morning, as taught by pathologists:  

Gunshot wound fatalities, explosion-related deaths, motor vehicle fatalities, and drowning. At lunch, we watched a teen driving and alcohol video. After lunch, we studied alcohol-related deaths, suicide, blunt-trauma fatalities, and more.  

How would my mystery writing colleagues take my return?

They welcomed me back. Fourteen top writers blurbed the Death Investigator proposal.

Diamond Dagger winner Lee Child said, “So happy to see Viets back to doing what she does best—dark, edgy, character-driven crime. Count me delighted.”

Ann Cleeves, author of the Vera Stanhope and Shetland series, said, “I think you’ve got everything here that a reader loves—a hospital drama and thriller, a strong central character. Made much more interesting because the central character is a very unreliable narrator.”

Charlaine Harris, who thoroughly explores the dark side, said, “Elaine Viets has written the exciting first book in a multilayered crime novel series. Angela Richman is not only an investigator but a victim in this complex novel of crime, punishment, and medical malfeasance.”

What about readers? Would they follow me back into the dark?

I surveyed more than a thousand readers. The majority—more than 75 percent—said they would read the new Death Investigator series. Almost half would prefer the new series and more than half said they would read both the Dead-End Job mysteries and the new series.

“I would love to see you tackle something a little darker,” one wrote. “As a male, the new series appeals to me.”

“Great choice,” said another. “I met many Death Investigators at the ME’s office while I worked there. They were all characters but were dedicated to the victim and family.”

Right now, I’m working on my 15th Dead-End Job mystery, The Art of Murder. I enjoy Helen Hawthorne’s lighthearted adventures in South Florida. Meanwhile, my agent is looking for a publishing home for my new Death Investigator series. The Jaguar just had a tune-up.

I want the best of both worlds: light and dark.
by Sinzuichan on Oct 20, 2015, 03:04 AM EST
At the most recent Viets signing, customers were asking fro a release date for the new series. "Cozy" readers are looking for more substance and texture and will follow a proven author favorite.
by Donna Marie on Jun 17, 2015, 12:17 PM EST
Thank you all for your comments and encouragement. I need to hang out here more often.
by Elaine Viets on Jun 11, 2015, 09:38 AM EST
You're right not to let anyone keep you in one category. Of course you should write both dark and light.
by Susan Oleksiw on Jun 11, 2015, 08:19 AM EST
I loved Quincy back in the day. I want to read your books.
by YaYa on Jun 11, 2015, 06:26 AM EST
I loved Elaine 's columns in the paper. I would love to read something dark and dangerous. Please write them
by Stan on Jun 10, 2015, 08:08 PM EST
Really enjoy your writing and sooo looking forward to your new series, good for you
by bettyl on Jun 10, 2015, 02:05 PM EST
I remember the Verhling novels and loved them. I am betting several doctors got copies of "Doc in the Box" as well they should have.

I would love to see your dark side - and read it too.
by Alan P. on Jun 10, 2015, 02:04 PM EST
Good blog post! Good wishes for your new series. :)
by Selena Robins on Jun 10, 2015, 01:42 PM EST
no reason why a person cannot chew gum and ride a bike at the same time.
go for it!
by d h on Jun 10, 2015, 01:35 PM EST
And why shouldn't you have it all? Writers shouldn't be confined to one strata of a genre. It keeps you fresh, branching out. And I should know.
by Charlaine Harris on Jun 10, 2015, 01:13 PM EST
A final draft of "Brain Storm" fell into my hands at Malice Domestic and I think it's terrific. Just the right balance of dark and light -- Elaine can't get completely away from humor, you know! The narrator engages the reader from the very first page; she's someone I'd like to get to know better. Fingers crossed a publisher recognizes this, too. A worthy addition to the Viets canon.
by Marcia Talley on Jun 10, 2015, 01:12 PM EST
The first thing I look for on a book cover is the author's name. I will read anything by Elaine Viets. I still miss Francesca, so am really looking forward to the new series.
And I'm sure Ms. Viets' sense of humor will be present and that too, somewhat darker.
by Doris Ann Norris on Jun 10, 2015, 12:50 PM EST
Elaine Viets is my favorite writer, so I am biased. I will buy any and everything she writes. This new series sounds awesome. I loved the first Francesca Vierling series so going back in that direction is exciting. I'm still quoting from Backstab. There are so many cozies, going darker and edgier will fill an empty spot and this character sounds fascinating. I can't wait!!!!
by Valerie Cannata on Jun 10, 2015, 12:21 PM EST
Suddenly it was 2015 and you were turning in book ten in a three book series? Ha! I love it.
by Catriona on Jun 10, 2015, 12:11 PM EST
I have been waiting eagerly for this since you first mentioned it on Facebook! It sounds exciting, tense, and perfect for you!
by Will Graham on Jun 10, 2015, 11:50 AM EST
 

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